When we think about “witches” in movies, we tend to go back to the familiar elements of imagery that have been used before. Warty chins and pointed hats were the order of the day. Old witches who have been warped and distorted by years of black arts practice. Children in cages and flying broomsticks while the oven heats up. The usual witchy fare.
However, depicting witches isn’t as straightforward as it seems. Because, for one thing, they aren’t necessarily evil in the movies. They aren’t all old and shrivelled, either. In fact, men and women are equally deserving. The modern witch, on the other hand, can be whatever the tale requires. They might be the protagonists or the comedic relief. If they’re also Angela Lansbury, they can launch delivery services or repel the Nazis from England’s shores (more on that below). These actors can star in multi-billion dollar blockbuster films while also bringing us some of the best in contemporary indie horror. They can do it all, witches!
That being stated, here are the top 20 finest witch movies of all time.
20. The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
The depiction of witchcraft in film might appear to be extremely dependent on the time and location of the film. What was the United States of America like during the Colonial Period? In the vein of The Crucible, or The Witch, this is a horror show of paranoia and suspicion. To a member of the upper crust of modern society, witchcraft can be seen as an allegory for sexually liberated women, as in the films The Craft and Practical Magic. The Witches of Eastwick, with its vampy charm and four actors who wonderfully nailed the mood, belongs to the latter group. A trio of beautiful witches, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Cher, were both enticed and hunted by Jack Nicholson, the most rakish of Old Scratch actors. Nicholson, as the enemy, enjoys the Earth’s sensual pleasures, savoring the opportunity to cause disaster. The Witches of Eastwick merely transforms the traditional depiction of witches as devil’s consorts into a more contemporary one—here, they’re badass, jilted lovers. The tires and paint would be punctured if Nicholson had a demonic hearse. It’s a movie about petty, good-natured revenge. —Jim Vorel
19. Eve’s Bayou (1997)
Jurnee Smollett and Debbi Morgan shine in Lemmon’s directorial debut, which is a tour de force strewn with superb performances from Samuel L. Jackson, Jurnee Smollett, and Lynn Whitfield. Eve Batiste’s summer of family disclosures is hectic and confused. It’s just a matter of time before the 10-year-old girl turns to fortune tellers and voodoo to help her family get back on their feet. However, despite the family’s demise, Eve and her sister are given a new lease on life. —Adreon Patterson,
18. Witchfinder General (1968)
Upon its first release in the United Kingdom, Witchfinder General was one of those torture-centric horror films that sparked a genuine outcry, but would go on to seem (relatively) mild in the years that followed, notably in the United States of America. One of Vincent Price’s most memorable roles is that of Matthew Hopkins, a notorious witch-hunter who is reported to have executed at least 300 accused witches in the mid-1600s. Like his previous Edgar Allan Poe flicks of the ’60s (like Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror or House of Usher), this is no campy performance. It’s Price at his most evil, majestic, and serious, as he begins a series of religiously motivated murders. It depicts a time of unrestrained madness and brutality in England. There is a Jim Vorel here.
17. The Craft (1996)
As with I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Craft has become one of those “cult cinema” touchstones of the 1990s teen-friendly horror genre, whether or not it deserves the nostalgia. While it’s hard to deny that it’s a smart progression of John Hughes-era high school movie cliches, depicting an almost Mean Girls clique of girls with the added fun of witchcraft, the idea might be better assigned to Heathers. When “starring Fairuza Balk” appeared on movie posters in the ’90s, it was a good thing, and this picture is a better, more interesting film because of it. As soon as these women begin to practice witchcraft for the sake of fame and petty revenge, we all know where the story is going to go. Although it’s cheesy, sappy, and over-the-top, The Craft nonetheless manages to hold up today, despite its many flaws. One of the most well-preserved time capsules to come out of the period of MTV. As said by —Jim Vorel
16. Witching & Bitching (2013)
Witching & Bitching does for witches what Shaun of the Dead did for zombies and What We Do in the Shadows did for vampires, albeit on a smaller scale. It’s Edgar Wright’s zom-com that comes closest to Iglesia’s Witching & Bitching, which is essentially a heist film that takes a detour into cannibalistic witch country and serves it up with a healthy dose of humor. It’s a gruesome horror comedy with strong performances from its Spanish cast and a fast wit that doesn’t hold back on the gore. Even if you don’t believe in its witches, they’ll still tie you on a spit and roast you to death. As said by —Jim Vorel
15. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Witches have been useful antagonists since the beginning of Disney animated feature films. As a prime example, Sleeping Beauty’s “Evil Queen” (whose actual name is apparently “Grimhilde”) established the groundwork for so many clichés to come. The animators clearly intended to show the Queen as a classic wart-nosed witch throughout the film, but the film’s central plot device—that the queen is a desperate contender for the title of “fairest of them all”—dictates that she can only take on what might be considered her true form when she comes to Snow in disguise as a hunchbacked old crone. Given that witches were historically characterized as consorts of Satan, the biblical metaphor likely still resonated with those 1937 audiences, making her plan to deceive Snow into eating a poisoned apple appropriate. Indeed, the queen is killed by a bolt of lightning, a symbol of God’s hand in the matter. It was difficult to divorce a witch from her biblical condemnation at this early point in film history. As said by —Jim Vorel
14. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Kiki’s Delivery Service, based on Eiko Kadono’s bestselling young adult novel from 1985, is a lighthearted and endearing tale of adolescent independence and maturation. Studio Ghibli’s fourth film under Miyazaki’s direction concerns the titular Kiki, a 13-year-old witch who sets out for a year to begin her training as an adult in the real world. Kiki’s Delivery Service is a story about a young woman’s transition into adulthood, with a magical twist, but it lacks any form of antagonist or epic quest. Making new friends, getting a job, and learning how to take on more responsibilities are all part of Kiki’s journey, which makes her story all the more endearing. When Kiki struggles to keep her broom steady mid-flight, her clothing billows in the wind as she flies off in the film’s magnificent finale, you can see Miyazaki’s love of depicting flying. When Studio Ghibli released its first feature film, Kiki’s Delivery Service, in 1989, it was a watershed moment, becoming the biggest grossing picture in Japan and winning critical praise both domestically and internationally. The video depicts the quest for self-sufficiency that every adolescent faces as they venture out into the world to make their own way in the world. Theodore Egan
13. The Witches (1990)
A subversive and almost wicked sense of humor is sometimes overlooked when discussing Roald Dahl’s work, but it’s hard to miss in both the novel and the film adaptation of The Witches, which is about a kid who attempts to poison his grandmother. As ghoulish as it gets for a kids movie, this one is right up there with Return to Oz. As unpleasant as it is comical, the Jim Henson-designed witch make-up is impossible to look past when the witches remove their wigs to pick at their open wounds. The purpose of this group is to exterminate every child on the planet in as imaginative and terrible a manner as possible. Instead of being a story about a hero’s struggle to survive, when the film’s hero Luke gets converted into a mouse, it’s more like the horrifying Ratatouille sequence where Remy is almost burned alive in an oven. Dahl, on the other hand, was dissatisfied with the film’s more cheery conclusion as compared to the book’s more catastrophic one. Whoa, that dude is tough as nails. JIM VOREL, the author
12. The Love Witch (2016)
If you don’t know anything about the film’s creation or provenance, you may think it’s a long-lost masterpiece of supernatural filmmaking from the 1960s or 1970s that was only recently discovered, restored, and presented to the general public. Of course, this isn’t the case, but your reasoning is sound. In contrast to similarly sentimental faux-retro productions, like 2012’s disingenuously nostalgic The Ghastly Love of Johnny X, the unabashed joy of Biller’s mimicry reminds us how much fun the films The Love Witch emulates can be in spite of, or maybe because of, their badness. Biller is a true master of the B-movie camp. In addition to Biller’s love of kitsch and her concentration on stunning production design, the film’s cheese factor is its most noticeable characteristic. “True love” is a phrase Samantha Robinson’s gorgeous (but similarly misguided) witch never stops to contemplate what those words genuinely mean, or whether personal freedoms are acceptable to violate in the process. You should avoid upsetting her, as the small boy in The Twilight Zone’s “It’s a Good Life” learned in “It’s a Good Life,” because she has no concept of right and wrong. —Andy Crump —
11. The Little Mermaid (1989)
While there are several witches in the Disney Vault, Ursula is likely the most feared of them all. The “sea-witch” is unquestionably crucial to the story of The Little Mermaid, serving as the film’s bargaining point and “ticking clock” mechanism, which demands that Ariel acquire True Love’s Kiss within three days or face the consequences. When it comes to the archetypal witch, she’s one who lives in an unquestionably evil lair, ready to make Faustian deals with anyone who has a readily exploitable desire. In a finale that is truly more horrifying than you probably remember, she sings, dances, and transforms into an enormous kraken. It’s a matter of protecting your position as head witch. As said by —Jim Vorel
10. Hocus Pocus (1993)
In some ways, Hocus Pocus feels like a sister narrative to Roald Dahl’s The Witches—while not quite as violent, the Sanderson Sisters still want to murder a bunch of children, which is quite hardcore as Disney goes. Many critics and moviegoers largely ignored the film when it was first released; but, it gradually blossomed and became a cable Halloween season mainstay, if you will—the Halloween equivalent of It’d Be a Wonderful Life. To this day we still talk about the picture because of Bette Midler’s Winifred, who manages to mix her larger-than-life movie persona with just a note of true menace. How can you really detest these witches after seeing them mistake an uncredited Garry Marshall for their demonic ruler in this film? As the popularity of ’90s nostalgia continues to increase, Hocus Pocus probably feels more current and popular in 2019 than it has ever been. As said by —Jim Vorel
9. Häxan, or Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)
While Häxan is billed as a historical documentary and a cautionary tale against mass hysteria, it actually functions more like a horror film, which is understandable given the film’s era of release in Denmark and Sweden. His portrayals of witch trials were inspired by the 15th century “hammer of witches” used by clergy and inquisitors to punish women and anyone suffering from mental illness, the Malleus Maleficarum. The film was prohibited in the United States because of its severe depiction of torture. Of a nutshell, the imagery in Häxan is so powerful that it refuses to let go of you. Long, drooping tongues dangling from their mouths, puffy-cheeked devils. Sluts of demons around naked men and women as they crawl and cavort in circles. Albrecht Dürer’s woodcuts or The Divine Comedy drawings would be right at home on these pages. With its grainy black and white cinematography, Häxan feels like some kind of dark Satanic artifact that humankind was never meant to see. You don’t want to watch this movie with youngsters in the house. As said by —Jim Vorel
8. Black Sunday (1960)
With Black Sunday, Mario Bava made his breakthrough after years of working as a cinematographer and (often uncredited) co-director on a wide range of modest to low budget horror and sword-and-sandals projects. The film, partially based on a short novel by Nikolai Gogol, follows the resurrection of a 17th century vampire-witch (Barbara Steele) and her paramour (Arturo Dominici) as they seek revenge on the descendants of the brother who murdered her. Black Sunday was conceived as a tribute to the Universal Monster films of the 1930s, but numerous brutal moments aroused substantial controversy (including, but not limited to, the implementation of a spiked death mask and a moment where a cross is stabbed through an eye). Naturally, the film’s popularity grew as a result of this kind of attention. The film’s gory sequences may have faded over time, but the film’s nightmare atmosphere, enhanced by its bright black-and-white photography and outstanding production design, still packs a powerful punch. Black Sunday has had a lasting impact on the horror genre, inspiring filmmakers from Tim Burton to Francis Ford Coppola. Mark Rozeman, Ph.D.
7. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Rosemary’s Baby, despite a horror classic, may not be the first “witch movie” to spring to mind. Isn’t Ruth Gordon’s instantly recognizable Minnie Castevet a witch by definition? As Rosemary’s next-door neighbor, she’s a truly evil soul in service to her dark master, yet she presents herself in an uncannily commonplace disguise. Rosemary’s Baby has done more than any other film to expose the ’50s-era oversimplification of “neighborly” helpfulness and to make an idealized past “when you didn’t have to lock your doors” look more ludicrous. So it’s all owing to Gordon, whose innocuous demeanor belies the steeliness we glimpse as Rosemary stares out of the peephole and sees her unflappable visage through it. Overemphasizing her physical frailty and her apparently doddering mind, Gordon plays the role of Rosemary in the same way she would in a stage play while also playing an important role in stripping Mia Farrow’s Rosemary of all her agency and power to resist. Among the witches on this list, she’s one of the most calculating. As said by —Jim Vorel
6. The Extended Potterverse
In some ways, J.K. Rowling’s modern reimagining of “witchcraft and wizardry” was an attempt to reclaim our negative associations with the term “witches.” Here, we’ll treat the 10 films on this list as a single blockbuster, kid-friendly adventure film, with distinct highs (The Prisoner of Azkaban) and relative lows (Alice in Wonderland) (The Chamber of Secrets). A major contribution of Rowling’s series was to depict a world in which the idea of magic was less magical and more practical, becoming woven organically into the fabric of everyday life for classical female “witches.” As a nanny to a large family of redheaded orphans, Molly Weasley finds magic to be a useful tool. As a course of study, Hermione sees it as a way to show off her innate intelligence. Bellatrix Lestrange (or the bureaucratically evil Dolores Umbridge), for example, still uses magic as a means of dominating or destroying their adversaries. When it comes to witchcraft, there’s a lot of room for interpretation, but you can say that the magical results mirror that person’s inner character rather well. As said by —Jim Vorel
5. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle was the Miyazaki picture that almost never happened. Mamoru Hosoda was originally intended to direct the film adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones’ 1986 novel, but he and Ghibli had a disagreement over artistic concepts and the project was shelved. For Miyazaki, it was a way of expressing his disdain for America’s continuing invasion of Iraq in a steampunk fantasy environment, and he made it his own by transforming the source material into a creative vehicle for expressing his disdain for the conflict. In Howl’s, a young woman who was cursed with the body of an old crone by a jealous witch is saved by a charismatic wizard who lives in a large walking house. Despite this, Howl’s is an enjoyable but occasionally lackluster adventure. A bow-legged fish with stumpy wings and turrets hobbling through the landscape and moving garbage to and fro is the film’s titular castle, which is one of Miyazaki’s finest inventions. Perhaps a little too nice and tidy, the film’s ending is nonetheless a classic Miyazaki effort that will please both newbies and fans who haven’t yet had a chance to watch it. Theodore Egan
4. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Can you imagine a list of witch movies without include the most famous witch in cinematic history? The Wicked Witch of the West, as a persona, was firmly entrenched in the American mind even before The Wizard of Oz had achieved its place as a modern classic. Even down to the sharp, warty chin and pointy, hooked nose of this particular witch, every physical attribute of this pop culture witch has subsequently become the standard pattern for pop culture witches. Only J.R.R. Tolkien can claim to have had such a fundamental and ubiquitous impact on genre tropes as the usual representation of “orcs” and “dwarves.” With her cackling and sumptuously nasty portrayal, Margaret Hamilton’s performance as the gloating, angry witch (they killed her sister!) rang with theatrical pomp. “Who would have believed a good little girl like you could destroy my lovely wickedness!” As said by —Jim Vorel
3. Spirited Away (2001)
Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is regarded as one of the greatest films he has ever created. Possibly because the picture is the best articulation of his most defining themes and notions to date. The euphoric grandeur of flying, the spiritual fight of personal and cultural forgetfulness with Japanese culture, and the restorative power of love. Even though this is only a modern remake of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the film’s core premise is so archetypically recognized that it’s not so much a modern reimagining as it is an homage to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Whatever the case, viewing Spirited Away for the first time is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When Chihiro discovers her parents have been converted into pigs, she runs through the streets in a panic, as the town around her comes to life with flickering lights and spirits rising from the earth. Miyazaki has used Yubaba, the other type of witch (as opposed to Kiki) that he has depicted more than time in his films, as the driving force behind most of the action and menace in this film. The work of —Toussaint Egan and Michael Burgin
2. Suspiria (1977)
Although Dario Argento is best known for his 1977 horror film Suspiria, it is also his most unconventional. Giallo, like the rest of his peak-era cinema, except for Inferno, is an abstract interpretation of the genre, removing the procedural narrative element and replacing it with pure aesthetic splendor. Blood and Black Lace and Suspiria are two of the best giallo films, but they aren’t the only ones that are visually stunning. Jean Rollin’s gothic languor is closer to this film’s soul than any current proto-slasher. Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) rides a cab through a flawlessly Grimm woodland in the film’s opening prologue, and the audience is bludgeoned by Goblin’s twisted, baroque score and Luciano Tovoli’s phantasmagorical camerawork. To generate the film’s distinctive, Disney-inspired washes of red, yellow, blue, and green—colors which become “the monster” of the picture, a visible embodiment of the supernatural—he and Argento employed imbibition Technicolor film stock (rare even in 1977) and unique lighting techniques. The fact that Helena Markos, the film’s adversary, is invisible when Suzy confronts her is telling. The only indication of her physical presence is her rattling, tortured breathing, but her creeping influence permeates every picture and drowns out the rest of the world. Furthermore, Goblins score fluctuates between diegetic and non-diegetic, and murder scenes spiral into jump-cuts that defy reality. While Argento would go on to make more complex puzzles and go further into self-reflexive craziness, Suspiria remains his purest, most singular artistic expression. As a result, it’s a must-have. Astrid Budgor
1. The Witch (2016)
A hostile land is thrust upon us right away in The Witch. Inevitably, his family is exiled from their “New England” town as a result of William (Ralph Inesonstubbornness )’s in arguing with a local council. A score of strings and other prickly trash fill the screen, yet writer-director Robert Eggers retains our attention. The wagon continues its journey into the woods, piling the New World’s frontier on top of an unknown forest’s physical boundary. William declares, “We will conquer this wilderness,” in 1620. An allure of the unknown permeates Eggers’ “New England Folk Tale.” Just as Salem Witch Trials, which took place 70 years after the events depicted in this film take place, it would be an understatement to suggest the film is reminiscent of them. Rather than resorting to jump scares or gore, Eggers builds suspense through a series of excellent edits, establishing a tense atmosphere in each shot. Because these primordial forces are never completely subdued, the impression is one of a developing fever dream in which they simmer at the borders of our experience, avoiding us while still lurking in the shadows.